November 26, 2002
Albanians take over organised crime
By Ian Cobain
IN TOWNS and cities across Britain last night members of the oldest
profession were working for a new and sinister breed of employer.
Just hours after David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, warned that Europe_s
stability was threatened by organised crime, prostitutes were earning
millions of pounds for Albanian gangsters.
Highlighting the rise of gangs from the south east of Europe, Mr Blunkett
_Organised criminals are more organised than we are._
Scotland Yard estimates that Albanian gangs control about 75 per cent
of prostitution in Soho. Many of the women and children caught up in
the trade are the victims of a modern form of slavery, kidnapped or
tricked into coming to Britain. Moreover, about three quarters of the
heroin coming from Afghanistan to Britain_s streets will pass through
Albanians and Kosovans in Britain are said to be involved in extortion,
gun-running and organised theft. They are even alleged to have plotted
the kidnap of Victoria Beckham.
They have been reported not only in London, but in Liverpool, Glasgow,
Edinburgh, Hull _ a hub of Albanian people-smuggling _ and, improbably,
Telford in Shropshire. During the past two years a similar pattern has
been reported from Milan to the American Midwest, where Albanians are
emerging as the would-be superstars of crime to rival the Sicilian Mafia,
the Chinese Triads and the Russian mob.
One of the problems facing law enforcement agencies is that Albanian
criminals are governed by a code of honour that makes the Mafia_s omerta
resemble little more than a casual word of warning. The Kanun, or Code,
dates back to the 15th century and was drawn up by Leke Dukagjini, an
Albanian prince who was a leading figure in the war with the Ottoman
Turks. It covered not only marriage, family law and property, but also
matters of honour, under which a besa, or pledge, must never be broken.
The Kanun continued to govern everyday life among the clans in the north
and east of the country until well into the 20th century. Blood feuds
became endemic as clan members avenged the killing of their own with
the murder of a member of the rival clan.
Enver Hoxha, the dictator who led Albania after the Second World War,
did his utmost to keep the lid on the code and the outside world never
came into contact with the outlaws who observed it.
With the collapse of communism in 1989, however, bandits whose lives
and crimes had changed little over the previous 600 years emerged from
the Cold War, ready to break into more modern rackets.
Gang members began to seep across the border in the early Nineties.
The trickle began to resemble a flood after the war in Kosovo. Initially
they worked as muscle for Turkish and Kurdish drug-smuggling gangs,
but police say they have emerged as contenders in their own right.
Albanian crime clans are organised according to ancient patterns of
rural life. The head of each clan, or the krye, leads a group of underbosses
known as kryetar, who will usually be blood relations. They sit on a
committee called a bajrack.
It is the bajrack that decides on new enterprises: the money needed
for a brothel in Soho, for example, will come from the committee, and
a proportion of the profits will always be sent to its home village.
Today a police officer interviewing an Albanian criminal will find the
code of silence almost impossible to crack.
The Albanians have four other advantages: like any successful mafia,
they have a safe homeland and a large diaspora; the country lies on
one of the most lucrative drug trafficking routes; their links to the
Kosovo Liberation Army provide a supply of weapons and they are prepared
to use extreme violence.
The coup that saw Albanians take over the prostitution rackets of Soho
was entirely bloodless. According to Dr Mark Galeotti, head of the European
Crime Unit at Keele University, the gangs appear to have used their
profits from the heroin trade to buy their way into vice, taking over
from criminals who were keen to move to other enterprises.
_They are still on an upward trajectory: they have another couple of
years of growth in the UK. So far Britain has been easy, because we
don_t have a single mafia here. We have a patchwork of gangs.
_But there is the real danger that they will use the violence they have
employed elsewhere, such as bombings and drive-by shootings, as they
try to consolidate their position._
So far the violence has been confined to beating and mutilating prostitutes
and attacking law-abiding Albanians.
However, it spilt into the open in Wood Green, North London, last July,
when rival gangs exchanged shots in a gunfight that one detective likened
to the OK Corral.
There is a silver lining to the cloud of Albanian crime. As they expand,
the gangs have been forced to recruit outsiders, who have become a source
of intelligence for detectives.
As the 30,000-strong Albanian population in Britain becomes more settled
they have been more willing to co-operate with police. In Liverpool,
for example, detectives are increasingly confident that they are beating
the gangs with the aid of Albanian emigrés.
Dr Galeotti says that there may be much blood spilt before the war on
Albanian gangs is finally won. _In Milan, where they actually tried
to oust the Mafia, they are being beaten,_ he said. _But they are going
Kidnap and vice
n Mr Blunkett was speaking after two Albanians began jail sentences
for kidnapping a 56-year-old man after a financial deal went sour. Their
victim was discovered by police in the boot of a car. The two had demanded
cash from the man_s family in return for his release.
Shpetim Lisha was jailed for 13 years and a 17-year-old youth got five
years earlier this month.
n Last week two Albanian cousins were jailed for a total of 16½
years for offences ranging from drug dealing to rape.
Mustapha Kadiu, 31, and Edmond Ethemi, 21, exploited a 15-year-old girl
and a 22-year-old woman. Kadiu had taken the 15-year-old Romanian girl
to London in July 2001 after she was sold into prostitution in Yugoslavia.
She was usually forced to work a seven-day week and earned up to £400
per day. Kadiu took all the money. Her earnings paid for food, living
expenses and rent.
When her earnings were not satisfactory, Kadiu would threaten and violently
assault her. He also forced her to have sex with him.
n Albanians control over 70 per cent of Soho vice and send £12
million a year back to Albania from the earnings of about 1,000 women.
They also control much of the smuggling of women into Britain for prostitution.
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